Too often, deeply religious men and women are branded as unqualified for public service roles helping others, solely because of their faith. They are labeled "too extreme" and rejected out of hand.
Dr. C. Everett Koop, who served as U.S. surgeon general from 1981-89, was a shining example of why such prejudice can be a disservice to the very people it purports to defend.
Koop, who died Feb. 25 at age 96, was a committed Christian who, when nominated by then-President Ronald Reagan, was opposed by many liberal politicians. His background was objected to by, among others, AIDS activists who assumed he would have no compassion for those afflicted by the disease.
Dr. C. Everett Koop, as U.S. surgeon general in the 1980s, revived the formal uniform of the position, which resembles that of a Navy rear admiral, to restore morale and dignity to the budget-buffetted Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service.
But Koop promised to do his job as the nation's top public health official - and he did. During his tenure, AIDS became a top priority for research and education.
Before he left office, Koop found himself idolized by many AIDS activists. During speaking engagements, some who booed other government officials took up the chant, "Koop, Koop!" in appreciation of his efforts.
Koop did much, much more, including a campaign against smoking that probably saved many lives.
His career in public service was one in which he refused to allow the kind of prejudice that targeted him to prevent him from helping others. In that, he provided a valuable lesson.